Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Twain's Ironic Freedom- Graded Blog #3 (Group 1)

In Chapter 8, entitled "Freemen!", Twain writes "These poor ostensible freemen...were as full of humble reverence for their king and church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire." The quote says that revering those in charge is dooming and the chapter tells of Hank's efforts to convince workers that a democracy is better than their current system. He deplores the nobility's and Church's stranglehold on the men's minds and tries to show them that there's a better way. It is ironic that Hank attempts to assert himself above all others in a father-knows-best sort of way and becomes the same style of forceful leader as the Church. Hanks complains that the nobles and the priests fill the citizen's minds with superstitions and false beliefs. In the pre-Boss chapters, he vows to rid the country of these silly thoughts and replace them with true education. Yet he goes around performing miracles such as calling down fire from the sky to blow up Merlin's tower and imitating a fire-breather with his pipe. Several times he uses a "magical" explanation for natural events. Hank has become a hypocrite.
Why does Twain have Hank follow a path that so closely mirrors what Hank hates? For one, it allows Twain to give him a destructive finale. He shows that change via force, regardless of if is through the church, king, or Hank, ultimately end badly. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the plot shows that it is hard to change people’s minds without playing down to their current beliefs.
The new ideas need to come gradually. The fact that Hank cannot change the minds of the people without using “magic” is a metaphor for how hard it can be to change our own societies (or Twain’s). It takes much more than just mentioning a flaw and snapping your fingers, saying “Wake up, people, you’re being duped!” This idea is also shown in Hank’s thoughts about soap use. He writes “Secondly, these missionaries would gradually, and without creating suspicion or exciting alarm, introduce a rudimentary cleanliness…” Twain suggests that change must be slipped in unnoticed. He is being ironic by having Hank run full speed ahead toward change, becoming the Boss, commissioning advanced works, bringing down the Church and the nobility, bringing free elections, only to have it fall in on Hank.

Joy's colleague argued that "Changes would come gradually, and we would get used to them.", and Twain uses Hank to show that this is the way any effective change must be.


1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

You expose a central irony rather nicely (you aren't the only one to work with particular irony, although you were first): in his hurry to achieve change _now_, Hank sets himself up as an authoritarian (controlling not only actions but thoughts) in the mold of the church which he theoretically opposes to vehemently. He is trying to legislate freedom from above...

What I don't quite follow is how you get from there to seeing Twain as advocating gradual change. You've exposed Hank as a hypocrite - but does that mean that he needed to be a gradualist, or simply more honest? Or does it mean (Twain could be deeply cynical) that change is essentially unachievable?

This was a little on the short side - enough so that I think you probably could have made those connections better in another hundred words or so.